Beck is net's new newsie

CNN’s Headline News has signed conservative radio host Glenn Beck for an hourlong talkshow in hopes of building on the ratings momentum generated by a revamped primetime lineup anchored by “Nancy Grace.”

The signing of Beck, expected to be announced today, will add a fourth show to HLN’s primetime in addition to “Grace,” “Showbiz Tonight” and “Prime News Tonight.”

“Glenn Beck is the next piece of the puzzle,” said HLN prexy Ken Jautz. “Glenn’s style is self-deprecating, cordial; he says he’d like to be able to disagree with guests and part as friends. It’s conversational, not confrontational.”

Beck, a former top 40 deejay who became a nationally syndicated talkshow host five years ago, recently moved his radio studio from Philadelphia to New York City to be closer to HLN studios.

New show will debut in April, though a timeslot has not been set. Jautz said any of the existing shows could be shuffled to accommodate Beck but none will be cancelled.

Net will look to build Beck into the type of TV personality that could siphon viewers from Bill O’Reilly, Joe Scarborough and other conservative hosts.

The addition of Beck is the latest move for HLN, which added a primetime schedule in February in the first major programming shift in the net’s 22-year history.

Ratings had been flat for nearly a decade when CNN brought in Jautz from CNN Europe a year ago to introduce primetime programming that would win new viewers without cannibalizing CNN.

Idea behind the changes is that viewers looking for the headlines have already seen them on the Web or on TV by primetime, so the net needed to come up with a schedule of shows to entertain and inform.

The changes gave HLN the fastest-growing show in cable news in “Nancy Grace” and the highest ratings in its history, up 16% in total viewers and 65% in primetime from a year ago.

HLN finished the year averaging 234,000 viewers per day and came very close to unseating MSNBC as the third-rated cable news net. It tied MSNBC in the adults 25-54 demo, on which advertising is bought and sold.

HLN has spent the last several months giving screen tests to dozens of news personalities — including other radio hosts — to find someone with enough TV charisma to carry an hourlong show.

“As part of the continued evolution of the network, we wanted another primetime show,” Jautz said. “We didn’t look for a conservative, a liberal or anyone of a particular ideology. It was about getting the best talent that would resonate with the most viewers.”

Beck is tied for eighth with a national radio audience of 2.75 million, according to Talkers magazine. More importantly to HLN, however, Beck is third in the 25-54 demo, according to Arbitron, behind Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

Beck’s five-year-old show is carried by a little more than 200 stations, but he achieved his aud without any distribution in New York City or Los Angeles.

While conservative, Beck is avowedly apolitical, and his show is a highly produced mix of interviews and opinion.

On Monday, he opened his show with a nostalgic mix of Martin Luther King Jr. Day speeches and followed with these hot-button questions: “What percent of whites are racists? What percent of blacks want things handed to them?”

Later, Beck poked fun at his own show: “It’s a holiday weekend. We’re practically phoning it in!”

In the coming weeks, HLN will hire an executive producer and staff for the show.

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